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NAE: What is an Evangelical?

Founded: 1942
Type: Evangelical organization
Headquarters: Washington, D.C., United States
Area served: USA
Membership: 40 Christian denominations, 45,000 churches
Website: nae.net

The word evangelical comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which means “gospel” or “good news.” An evangelical is someone who believes the good news that Christ died for our sins and rose again and that forgiveness and salvation are available through faith in Him. Evangelicals believe in the authority of the Bible, that salvation is available through Jesus Christ alone, that Christians should live out their faith and make disciples of all nations, and that they should interact with society and effect change. The term evangelical was first used during the Reformation but came to be used in the United States in the mid-20th century by those who wanted to distinguish themselves from the “Fundamentalists.” Evangelicals felt that Fundamentalists wanted to isolate themselves from society rather than engage and change it.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), founded in 1942, is a partnership that attempts to help unite evangelicals in the United States for greater impact in society. The official mission statement of the NAE is “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians” (from their website, accessed 11/26/18).

The National Association of Evangelicals describes its membership this way: “We are a body of believers made up of nearly 40 denominations and thousands of churches, schools, nonprofits, businesses and individuals who understand that together we can do more. Our evangelical constituency includes millions of Americans who take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. When you join us, you give greater voice to the gospel in our society through the NAE. And in return, we seek to inspire and inform your personal voice with trusted insight on critical issues facing our churches, our nation and the world” (op. cit.).

The National Association of Evangelicals attempts to influence public policy by providing “a forum where evangelicals can work together to preserve religious liberty, nurture families and children, protect the sanctity of human life, seek justice for the poor, promote human rights, work for peace, and care for God’s creation” (op. cit.). The NAE has faced some criticism over the years because of its willingness to partner with organizations that are not evangelical, if they are in agreement on a specific outcome. For instance, in an attempt to reduce the number of abortions, the NAE partnered with a group that also promoted the use of contraception among teenagers. The NAE also partners with the Catholic Church when addressing social issues about which there may be agreement. The NAE believes that evangelicals can work with non-evangelicals to effect social change without sacrificing any doctrinal essentials.

The National Association of Evangelicals commissions chaplains to work in the military, hospitals, prisons, and other institutions. World Relief is the relief and development arm of the NAE and provides churches “with a platform to bring humanitarian assistance to suffering people in the name of Christ in the United States and throughout the world. World Relief has active ministries in the areas of disaster response, child development, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, agricultural development, immigrant legal services, microfinance, anti-trafficking and refugee resettlement” (op. cit.). The NAE attempts to encourage evangelical leaders of all kinds through its regular podcasts, its magazine Evangelicals, and sponsored events.

The doctrinal statement, as adopted by the National Association of Evangelicals, is brief:

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one point that is clearly missing regards the way that the benefits Christ’s atoning death are applied to the individual. The doctrinal statement affirms that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential, but it does not explain how one is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. What is missing is any clear statement that justification is by faith alone in Christ. In an article on the NAE website entitled “Our Doctrinal Core,” this point is affirmed: “Man is saved by faith alone in Christ alone.” However, agreement with the statement of faith is required for membership, not agreement with explanatory articles, so this omission is significant as there are some who could agree with the doctrinal statement and still disagree on the place of the individual’s effort in gaining and maintaining salvation. Perhaps the statement is vague in some areas as it attempts to be broad enough to include people and organizations from a wide variety of denominations and doctrinal perspectives, “bringing together Calvinist, Arminian, Wesleyan, Anabaptist and Charismatic traditions” (op. cit.).

Resources: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns

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